Sunday, October 31

Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track by Trevor Greene at The SocioWeb

Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track by Trevor Greene at The SocioWeb

By: Trevor Greene

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Average Customer Rating: 5.0 out of 5

Vancouver's downtown East-side neighborhood, the poorest postal code in Canada, is a ten-block compound of poverty, pain, and despair in a sparkling, healthy, rich city. In the parlance of the street, this area is known as Low Track, where drug-addicted prostitutes barely sustain themselves and their habit by selling their bodies. Suspended in the miasma of smoke and despair and the stench that hangs over these mean streets is the mystery of 31 Low Track prostitutes who appear to have vanished over the past few years, without a trace. Theories abound about serial killers and murderous freighter crews, while some speculate that some of the women shook their drug habit and just walked away from the life.

In Trevor Greene's illuminating book, Bad Date: The Lost Girls of Vancouver's Low Track, he writes about this true-life mystery. Having interviewed the families of the missing women and the police involved in the case, he comes up with some possible explanations of what might have happened. There are no bodies, no eyewitnesses, and no clues. Just a void where 31 women once were, families and friends left behind, and a mystery that has the women still working Low Track watching their backs and fearing the night.

Publisher: Ecw Press

Customer Review: 5 out of 5
A Human Look At A Hard Life - BAD DATE by Trevor Greene is a combination sociological/social work study of the many prostitutes on Vancouver's Low Track who have gone missing since the 90s. Greene's focus is on the life style of the prostitute/victims, most of them drug addicted, and on their families, making it clear that the women are no less human than any of the rest of us. There is also focus on the sick men who physically victimize - to the point of killing - these women who are among the most vulnerable and who due to their addiction and transience are the least likely to be immediately missed. For the sexually conflicted, bullying men who need to satisfy their Madonna/whore lunacies by battering women who have done nothing to them, the prostitute/addict is a gold mine.

Greene's work touches all bases of the subject including law enforcement, politics, disease, in addition to the main areas I've mentioned.
Two items of note: 1. BAD DATE is not true crime. 2. It was published before Vancouver pig farmer, Robert Pickton, was arrested and charged with the murders of some of the missing women, but this doesn't make the book any less interesting.

Trevor Greene has written about what is to me a heartbreaking subject and while doing so has demonstrated his understanding that we are all human beings and that the most troubled of us is as valued as the rest.
Highly recommended.

Customer Review: 5 out of 5
I wish more people had this much compassion - This information contained in this book my seem to be dated or lacking since it was written just before Robert Pickton was arrested and charged with the murders of several missing women from the Vancouver area (some of whom are mentioned in this very book). Despite that, I think that anyone interested in the subject of these murders or with the plight of poor, drug addicts will find this book to both an illuminating and riveting expose. This book provides a glimpse into the horrific lives of some of the people at the lowest rung of society.

This book will definitely not appeal to everyone. It is, first of all, deeply sad and disturbing for anyone not used to seeing or hearing about people who live their lives on the fringes of society, and who lives are a constant struggle for survival from day to day. Their lives are a constant cycle of getting high and finding the means to stay high. First of all, they get addicted to whatever their drug of choice is. Then they find that they must feed this adiction. Usually whatever income they have is not enough to support the habit or they cannot continue to hold a regular job and they must resort to other means of supporting the habit (like stealing or prostituion). If they don't feed their addiction, they must suffer withdrawal and that for them is a pain like no other. So, they steal or sell their bodies or whatever they must do in order to finance their habit. Prostitutes often are addicted to drugs in order to ease the pain of servicing so many.

Also, not everyone would care to read this book because not everyone is sympathetic to such people. That never ceases to amaze, shock, disturb, or anger me. Often times, I have found that the reaction some people have to the pig farmer murders is more like amusement or indifference. The general concensus among many is that these women were lowlife, drug addicted prostitues who got what they deserved and that society is much better off without them. What is ironic here is that many of these women did not start out their lives this way and that for whatever reason they chose to or were forced to take the wrong path in life. Almost all of them had family and friends who cared for them and loved them deeply. For those victims who did not even have that, I say that they deserve even more sympathy because they never had a chance. No one has the right to make the decision if these victims deserved to live or not.

One part of the book that really shocked and disturbed me was an excerpt taken from the diary of Sarah De Vries (one of the missing women mentioned in the book and linked to the pig farm). By all accounts, Miss De Vries was a lovely, smart young woman who was very much loved by family and friends. Why she would choose to do what she did is a mystery. In this excerpt, she wrote about a close call with a john who had picked her up for a "date" and then taken her out into a desolate, wooded area and tried to kill her. He nearly accomplished this, but she was able to escape. Trevor Greene says in his book that this is like a rite of passage that ALL prositutes go through, and even if they survive the first, there are bound to be many other similar experiences. Sarah survived that one, but she obviously had another that she did not survive. I would also like to point out that one would think that after the first "bad date" experience, Sarah would have learned her lesson, but drug addiction is so very powerful that she and others just like her ultimately disregard the dangers that exist and put their lives in jeopardy just to stay high

Anyone with young children should read this book or a least be aware of the message. Most people think that this would never happen to their kids. I bet most of the parents of these victims thought the same. It is not hard to get mixed up with the "wrong" crowd.

Trevor Greene must indeed be an kind and compassionate person for having researched this subject and then written a book about it. This is the kind of person who I admire and respect. I read recently that he was badly injured in Iraq while he was serving there. I hope he's well now.

Customer Review: 5 out of 5
Injured in Afghanistan - Trevor Greene is an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces and was recently seriously injured while on duty in Khandahar.

This book shows the depth of this man as a human being. The murders in Vancouver's downtown eastside were allowed to happen by police and public indifference fed by racism. Captain Greene goes deep into conditions on the east side to help all of us understand this.

That this man would go on to serve in Afghanistan speaks well of the quality of officer that the Canadian Armed Forces are attracting.

Apparently there is an earlier book on the homeless in Tokyo that I am trying to locate.

Customer Review: 5 out of 5
Riveting account of important social topic - BAD DATE: THE LOST GIRLS OF VANCOUVER'S LOW TRACK is a riveting, compelling account of the girls and women who were addicted to drugs and/or alcohol, and who had to work the streets of Vancouver's "downtown Eastside," also known as "Low Track" as prostitutes to fund their drug habits. The accounts of the lives of these women are harrowing. Many of these girls tried drugs once and became hooked on them. In particular, the account of Sheila and Julia Egan, two sisters whose mother recounts the story of how they became hooked on drugs to the author, Trevor Greene, should serve as a warning to other parents to supervise their children more closely. The Egan girls became hooked on drugs merely by "hanging out" a little too much with other kids at a nearby strip mall. Sheila Egan has been missing for six or seven years now and may have been murdered by Robert Pickton--it is not known for sure what happened to her, but she is still missing.

The tragedy here is that these women were talented, warm, caring human beings who became enmeshed and entrapped in a horrible life that was so dangerous, that it's no wonder they fell victim to someone who took their lives. Anyone who is in the fields of counseling, specifically school counseling or school psychology, or concerned parents who want to know how to protect their daughters from undesirable outside influences should read this book.

Customer Review: 5 out of 5
A stunning expose of an ongoing serial killing - With more than 50 women missing from Vancouver, you'd think there would be a lot of books and writings on this unbelievable story. However, Trevor Greene appears to be the only one with guts to tackle this horrific story.

Reminiscent of the Green River killings, but more prolific, these missing women are out there somewhere. Trevor does a great job of keeping objective as he talks about a tradegy that is beyond most of our understanding.

No justice from missing women inquiry

No justice from missing women inquiry

Justice is blind. For she cannot see the moral corruption of a government that appoints a man whose neutrality is suspect as the head of the missing women commission.

And she is deaf. For she cannot hear the cries of the victims' families and First Nations communities for a just inquiry.

And she is mute. For she does not call for our government to right this wrong.

And we who stand by without demanding a proper hearing, with a truly independent commissioner, are as guilty as those we have elected to power.

Shame on us all.

Rosalee van Stelten


Saturday, October 30

Every day I look in the mirror. By Lori Ann Ellis

Every day I look in the mirror and to my surprise the color of my skin is not the first thing I notice. I see a person. A person who has known horrible loss. A person who has known incredible joy.  I see a little girl, and an old women. I see a lady growing and changing every day. I look at my freckles and think of my Scottish ancestors. I think of my love of tea and think of my Grandfather who fed me tea while I was bounced on his knee teaching me in his own way about my English Family far across the sea's.

Somewhere floating around in my head are French words I carefully studied for 7 years honouring my Grandmother who's French Canadian heritage I greatly respect. I embraced my neighbours I came to feel were my family that I spent my youth with. Growing up in a more gentle trusting time. We ate their food we played with there children we were Italian. Even when we moved to Calgary a small part of me thinks of the sweet smells in the kitchens I grew up with and the smell of garlic or oregano make me feel at home. I have cousins and friends of all nationalities, they come from all walks of life. I am truly blessed to be accepted as a family member in many ways by many people. I have friends from Lebanon, Tanzania, India, United States, Kenya, Canada. I have broken bread with Millionaires and shared my food with the homeless. I have listened to people talk of their summer home while others spoke of the doorway they shared to get out of the rain last night. I have seen million dollar outfits that were felt out of place because they were last years style. And I have seen women run naked from the hands of  a violent man. I have seen Women who felt they were beaten down rise to great heights. I have seen women of great power fall a great distance because life is real. Life takes us in many different directions and keeps us always on our toes. Life is a gift, life is a challenge and life is precious. Every day we wake up we can make a difference. We can cry for what we don't have ,pray for what we want or be grateful for the gift of another day. We can feel sorry for our lot in life and blame everyone else, or we can say how can I make today count. What can I do today to lift another soul. What can I do today that will touch a life in a positive way. I feel the pain of people who have been hurt by the life they have known. I too carry the scares of violence on my skin and in my soul. I know first hand what alcohol can do to rip a family to shreds. I know how a loved one addicted to drugs can burn you to your very soul. The pain I have known is very real. I carry these memories with honour. I carry them with pride. If I had never known this pain I could not stand hand in hand with other people and know I can handle whatever life has in store for me. I have been lied to stolen from beaten and raped. I have been cheated and pitied. More important than that I have been Loved, respected,honoured and appreciated. I have laughed with many and cried with more. I look at people and I do not see color I see love and sadness and pride and joy and desperation. I see life! I am grateful for simple joys of every day life. I held a new baby yesterday and looked in the face of this small child and knew he had a life ahead of him with many twists and turns. It is his road to travel and his alone.

Every time we make a choice it takes us in a different direction. I think of my Sister in Law Cara and the road that took her to be on that horrible farm where she lost her life. She could have taken different paths that lead her far from the filth she died in. But to say that she made her way in that direction or any other of the Women because of their Heritage is placing much pressure on her skin color. These girls did not end up at the farm or any other place of horror because of their skin. They ended up where they did because of choices. They have wound their way down their path and reached their final destination. Surly there have been things from their background that helped guide them down this path. But to say they did so because of their skin is just not right. We make choices. They can be wrong ones or right ones but they our ours to make. We can not go back in time but we can look forward. What happened to the Women on that farm sickens me to my very soul.

Let us mourn these women. Let us mourn what they were, where they were but most important let us mourn what they could have been and never where. When you morn the loss you morn all we have lost. The best way to honour these women is to honour them as a whole. These girls lived together Black White Native and everything in between. I do not grieve the loss of my White sisters or my Black sisters or my Native sisters. I grieve for all, all the women who could have been much more. I grieve for the pain they lived with every day. Loss is part of life you are born and you will die. What you do to fill in the time you are here is up to you. You hold the map and you choose your path but if the direction you choose leads you astray don't blame your forefathers your parents or friends or your heritage just look at the map and try to lead yourself back home.

Lori Ellis

Friday, October 29

Ambrose earmarks $10 million to address missing and murdered aboriginal women

Ambrose earmarks $10 million to address missing and murdered aboriginal women
Federal Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose announced a new initiative to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, at VPD headquarters in Vancouver, BC Friday, October 29, 2010.

Federal Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose announced a new initiative to address the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women, at VPD headquarters in Vancouver, BC Friday, October 29, 2010.

Photograph by: Jason Payne, PNG

VANCOUVER — Rona Ambrose, federal Minister for Status of Women, announced in Vanouver today several new federal initiatives to address the "disturbing number" of murdered and missing aboriginal women, including steps to help police better investigate these cases.

These initiatives will cost $10 million, and that money was first announced in March's federal budget.

The initiatives also include improvements to missing person databases, strengthening criminal code amendments and creating a national police centre to improve response to these cases.

The money earmarked includes:

- $4 million to create a National Support Centre for Missing Persons, to enhance the national police information system to better capture missing person data, to create a national registry for missing persons and unidentified remains, and to create a website where people can log tips.

- $1 million for school- and community-based pilot projects to reduce the vulnerability of young aboriginal women to violence.

- $1.5 million to improve the safety of aboriginal women in communities.

The department of justice will also introduce amendments to the Criminal Code to make it easier for police to get the warrants they need in these investigations.

Representatives of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women, the Salvation Army, the RCMP and the Vancouver police were at the announcement and said they were relieved to see the federal group acknowledge missing and murdered women as a national problem. The groups said they hoped the initiatives would help to solve historical and future cases.

NWAC estimates there have been more than 600 missing and murdered women in Canada over the last three decades.

The B.C. government has launched an inquiry to examine problems with the investigation into more than 60 women who disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. The DNA of 32 of the women was found on land owned by convicted serial killer Robert Pickton.

CTV British Columbia - Feds pledge $10 million to find missing women - CTV News

CTV British Columbia - Feds pledge $10 million to find missing women - CTV News

By: The Canadian Press

Date: Friday Oct. 29, 2010 1:46 PM PT

The federal government is spending $10 million on measures to help find missing women, including setting up a new central missing persons co-ordination centre.

Hundreds of First Nations women are either missing or the victims of unsolved murders across the country.

"The disturbing issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women is one of serious concern," said Minister for Status of Women Rona Ambrose in announcing the measures. "Our plan will provide new tools for law enforcement and improve the justice system and victims' services."

She said the government is taking a national approach to the issue with the creation of a new police support centre for missing persons in Ottawa.

In addition, the government is beefing up the Canadian Police Information Centre database with extra information about people who are missing and setting up an Internet tip site for missing person cases.

"But I think most importantly, other than the sharing of the information across the different layers and jurisdictions, is the victims services support programs," Ambrose said.

The government is promising money for what it calls "culturally appropriate" victim services across the country as well as funding for aboriginal groups to help the families of missing and murdered women.

It will also help develop safety plans and awareness programs for aboriginal women.

The moves come after the B.C. government announced an inquiry into the police investigations involving dozens of women who vanished from Vancouver's Downtown East Side, several of whom became victims of serial killer Robert Pickton.

Eighteen other women have either been murdered or disappeared in recent years along Highway 16 between Prince George and Prince Rupert in northern B.C., a route that has been dubbed the Highway of Tears.

Thursday, October 28

'Serial killer' charged in cold case murders


Last Updated: October 28, 2010 12:02pm

peter dale macdonaldMore than 16 years after the first of three Parkdale prostitutes was found dumped along Lake Ontario's shore near a breakwater, Toronto Police have charged an accused serial killer.

Peter Dale MacDonald, 52, -- serving a life sentence for murder and was being held by police in Windsor for the murder of a prostitute in that Motor City -- was brought to Toronto, where he appeared Thursday in an Old City Hall courtoom.

He was arraigned on three first-degree murder charges in the deaths of west-end hookers Julieanne Middleton, Virginia Coote and Darlene MacNeill.

As the number of victims and similarities in their strangulation murders pointed to a lone hunter, homicide detectives established a task force.

All three victims worked the streets. All were hooked on crack cocaine. All were found in shallow water within 1-to-1.5 kilometres of each other.

On July 7, 1994, Middleton, 23, became the first victim.

Found near Sunnyside Pool on Lake Shore Blvd. W., she was wearing only a bra.

On Oct. 28 that year, the partially-clothed body of Coote, 33, was spotted about 100 metres from where Middleton's body was found.

Street sex worers began teaming up in Parkdale, a busy place for the trade and drug dealers in the 1990s. Many accused police of not doing enough to catch the killer, but Det.-Sgt. Steve Ryan said others worked closely with investigators, providing tips.

The hookers-in-the-lake killings stopped -- for almost three years.

Then MacNeill, 35, was found dead on Oct. 29, 1997 behind the Canadian Legion building on Lake Shore, just west of Exhibition Place.

A chill went through her colleagues, who began taking buddy-up and phone-in precautions again, fearing another killing spree.

An autopsy showed MacNeill was dumped in the water after being choked unconscious.

Despite repeated revisits to the cases, the murderer eluded Project Breakwater police team.

Each had been "manually strangled," Ryan, head of the Toronto Police homide cold case squad, told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

A police source told the Sun all were raped before being murdered.

But Ryan said he could not comment on that aspect of the investigation or what led them to MacDonald.

After another prostitute was attacked 12 years ago - and survived - detectives released a composite sketch of a possible suspect: A white, 35-year-old man with long blond hair.

The three victims didn't now each other, nor their killer, Ryan confided.

He said MacDonald's name had "surfaced in 1994," but despite intense investigations by the original police team, plus the cases being revisited by the next generation of cold case detectives, sufficient new evidence didn't surface until about six months ago.

Ryan said he couldn't elaborate.

He said police are not aware of any similar homicides in Toronto.

Staff-Insp. Mark Saunders, head of the homicide squad, said "we put tremendous resources into the case."

The cold case squad "have arrested a serial killer," he alleged.

Real inquiry needed into Pickton killings

Real inquiry needed into Pickton killings

Oppal commission should focus on police errors during investigation

Earlier this month, we joined Ernie Crey in a meeting with Wally Oppal, the recently appointed head of the misnamed "missing women commission."

We were direct yet constructive in our talks with Oppal. We shared our concerns with his appointment and the narrow inquiry terms of reference. Crey, whose sister's DNA was found on Robert Pickton's farm, and other families want a properly mandated public inquiry to get underway in a good way.

Upon reflection, we don't see that the mandate of this inquiry or the ability of Oppal to have the support of the families is commensurate with the serious magnitude of the issues.

The inquiry has to start with the support of the victims' families. It has to begin with their endorsement because it is the right thing to do. It cannot be kept secret then announced assuming everyone (especially the excluded) will jump on board.

The first priority for First Nations is always to comfort the victims. If that isn't right, not much else will be.

And we don't think it is there.

The neutrality of the commissioner is important and we wanted to give Oppal the benefit of the doubt, even though we knew he was the attorney general who decided not to pursue the prosecutions for the other missing and murdered women.

But indigenous women deserve better and so do British Columbians. The Oppal commission can do its work because those who called it are too narrow-minded to put the issue out properly or ask someone independent of government to do it right.

Don't call it a missing women commission. That's an insult to the women who died because their lives are not in scope of the mandate of this inquiry.

We were surprised and caught off-guard when Oppal told the media, following our meeting, that "the chiefs are happy with the appointment ... and they had suggestions as to how we should conduct the hearings and how we should conduct the inquiry."

Allow us to clarify.

Too many indigenous girls and women escape to the streets. This has been a burden to all First Nations communities for some time. It is a source of anger and distrust in justice systems and places our girls and women at continuing risk.

The social safety net and justice system seem to fail these vulnerable girls and women. Many have been in the child welfare system, others lack the supports needed for success at home and in school.

And indigenous girls and women are often the target of those who would abuse and demean women, with sexual, physical and racial violence. Serial killers, rapists and others target and attack our girls and women on the Highway of Tears and in other parts of Canada, just as Pickton did in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and on his farm.

A properly mandated inquiry would have understanding the changes needed in the lives of marginalized indigenous girls and women as a key priority.

But this inquiry is missing something important. It isn't about the missing women. It isn't even about understanding the circumstances that place indigenous women at risk of predatory or other violence.

It's about a police investigation during one small period of time.

For that reason, it cannot honour or do justice to those who died, or those who live in the shadows of violence and abuse.

Many of these women were status Indians and lived under a federal regime of regulation in their bands.

Yet this isn't even a federal-provincial commission of inquiry to ensure that we learn in B.C., and elsewhere in Canada, how best to make those changes that would have saved the lives of the Pickton victims.

When Donald Marshall Jr. was wrongfully convicted of murder, a federal-provincial royal commission was called to inquire into the circumstances that would cause a young indigenous boy to be targeted and wrongfully jailed.

Much good work came out of that commission and change happened because the federal and provincial justice systems opened their minds to the possibility of systemic problems. What we have here isn't even close to this.

Ernie Crey wants this inquiry to find answers for his family and other families. He would like to see policing, justice, victim and child welfare services reviewed carefully for each victim and the systemic issues explored and recommendations made and implemented so this never happens again.

Crey wants this inquiry to help break the cycle of poverty, addictions and sexual and family violence.

We believe other families share Ernie's desire for truth, social justice and significant change in those agencies charged with protecting the most vulnerable.

We must turn these horrific serial murders into a full exploration of how to protect and support women, especially indigenous women.

We will be left with the most important question -- why were the lives of these and so many other indigenous women in Canada not adequately supported, and how could our systems treat them, and others, as something to be thrown away, then put to the bottom of the heap in pursuing their murderers and abusers? Probably because we didn't care enough to make it different.

We can't let that happen again. Join us in calling for a real inquiry that puts the lives of those victims at the forefront.

- - -

Shawn A-in-chut Atleo is National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations. Grand Chief Doug Kelly is chairman of the First Nations Health Council.

Sunday, October 24

News coverage of serial killer was necessary | Larry Cornies | Columnists | Comment | London Free Press

News coverage of serial killer was necessary | Larry Cornies | Columnists | Comment | London Free Press: "By LARRY CORNIES, SPECIAL TO QMI AGENCY
Last Updated: October 23, 2010 12:00am"

Yes, absolutely.

That's the short answer to the question so many Canadians asked this past week, as the trial of Russell Williams moved from sordid exhibit to horrifying detail: Did the media really have to expend so much ink, so many electrons and so much airtime on the man Justice Robert Scott dubbed "a sado-sexual serial killer"?

Yes, we did.

The long answer requires a bit more space. So, with apologies to those who are already suffering from Williams fatigue, here goes.

Certainly, the fate of the former commander would have been the same, regardless of whether the media had given his trial minute-by-minute coverage or ignored it completely. He had already given notice he would plead guilty to two premeditated murders, two sexual assaults and 82 burglaries. The Crown's case was clear, the evidence was overwhelming and the sentence was foreordained in law.

So why, then, the saturation treatment?

As a former newspaper manager, I am accustomed to the reflexive accusations from readers, listeners or viewers that sensationalism is the blunt instrument designed to boost readership or ratings. It's absolutely true newspaper and online editors, as well as radio and producers, design their information packages to command as much attention as possible without distorting the facts or their underlying truth.

Not as well understood is that news media have far more to lose in the long run by betraying audience sensibilities, toying with facts and undermining reader confidence than they will ever gain through a few additional sales or a temporary bump in ratings or hits. It's akin to fudging the numbers on this quarter's financials - over the long term it only hurts.

Those who direct and shape coverage at the country's major news outlets are also under no illusions about the power of consumers to turn the page, flip the channel or click the mouse. This became apparent during the trials of Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka; it was a lesson re-learned during the trial of Robert Pickton.

During the latter, news outlets - including the national newspaper at which I was then employed - prepared for saturation coverage of the long, complicated trial of an accused mass murderer. It took about two weeks, however, for audiences to send back the sobering message that there were limits to what they wanted to know, day to day. News media adjusted, even as they kept up their vigil for unexpected developments.

As a journalist, I am of the persuasion that more information is nearly always better than less; that context, detail and background, put on the public record, aid our collective understanding, both now and in the future. To give historians and social scientists their best shot at interpreting today's events tomorrow, it's important that the "first rough draft of history" be as detailed and comprehensive as we can make it.

Reporters in Belleville this week were exposed to grisly details that never got close to air, screens or newsprint. Ethical considerations, newsroom conventions and audience tastes intervened. And the result was reporting that was, on the whole, appropriately sensitive.

Among the very best was that of CBC Radio reporter Dave Seglins, who voiced reports laced with factual data and interpretive commentary that respected the victims and their families, and that could frequently be described as poetic understatement.

As an educator, I was grateful for the in-depth coverage of the Williams trial on two other levels. First, it provided the kind of teachable moment on the workings of our court system that appears only occasionally. And second, it offered my foreign students an object lesson in Canadian law.

For one Chinese student, for example, the spectacle of a high-ranking military officer being held accountable for his crimes by a civilian court was revelatory.

The depth with which news media covered the Williams trial - and the degree to which they were able to use new-media tools - will serve the cause of justice well.

It will be of benefit to a future parole board, certainly. It will help bring closure to the survivors of Williams' terrors. It will add to our understanding of killers who manage to live dual lives.

It acknowledges those among us who are survivors of sex attacks but have never found the courage or opportunity to tell their stories.

And it is one way to pay our final respects to those women who, because of one man, can no longer speak for themselves.


Saturday, October 23

Williams' case and the missing women

Williams' case and the missing women
Convicted murderer  Russell Williams leaves the Belleville courthouse Thursday. A  letter-writer compares Williams' crimes with Robert Pickton's Lower  Mainland killings.

Convicted murderer Russell Williams leaves the Belleville courthouse Thursday. A letter-writer compares Williams' crimes with Robert Pickton's Lower Mainland killings.

Photograph by: Julie Oliver, Postmedia News, Times Colonist

Ontario police did well to quickly identify and apprehend Col. Russell Williams, as the Oct. 22 editorial notes.

However I see a hideous contrast to the almost malevolent indifference of British Columbia police forces, which for over 10 years failed to offer any of the same consideration to the more than 60 women missing from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

The difference wasn't between provinces or due to the multiple police bodies involved.

It was the difference between the victims here and in Ontario and their place in society.

Read Stevie Cameron's On the Farm and see how a lowlife like Robert Pickton could, with great ease, brutally erase the lives of women who were down in the world, but who left loved ones behind.

These friends and relatives were routinely ignored by authorities and lied to, unlike the families of the two sad victims in Ontario, whose disappearance was taken seriously and investigated expeditiously.

B.C.'s judicial system failed as well and the evil man was convicted only of second degree murders of six of the victims.

He will never be on the streets again, but British Columbians should be ashamed.

Donna Wakefield


Paul Lacerte: B.C. must invest in off-reserve aboriginals

Paul Lacerte: B.C. must invest in off-reserve aboriginals

Better funding for friendship centres vital for aiding women and children

Aboriginal women are being murdered in B.C. at an alarming rate. Robert Pickton's victims were disproportionately aboriginal. And in 2009 and 2010, there were 297 missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls counted in this province.

Last week Cynthia Frances Maas, an aboriginal woman, was found dead in a wooded area of Prince George after going missing along Highway 16, known as the Highway of Tears.

What do these women have in common? All are aboriginal. Most were living off-reserve when they were murdered or went missing. More than half are under the age of 31. And many are mothers of young children.

Off-reserve aboriginal people in Canada have the lowest life expectancy and graduation rates and some of the highest rates of suicide, addictions, unemployment, poverty, victimization and incarceration. This bleak reality is magnified for urban aboriginal women.

Thousands of aboriginal people have moved off reserves in recent years. More than 60 per cent of B.C.'s aboriginal population -- close to 150,000 people -- live off-reserve.

The B.C. government does not, however, have a co-ordinated plan for helping these people -- including its most vulnerable women and children.

B.C.'s aboriginal friendship centres do have a plan. They are calling on the provincial government to commit $3.1 million annually to provide support for continued delivery of essential services -- the kind of services that could have helped those missing women by enabling them to climb out of poverty and lead healthier and more productive lives.

Friendship centres are the largest service-delivery infrastructure for the off-reserve aboriginal community. They are often the first point of contact for aboriginal people moving to urban areas.

The centres provide hundreds of services and programs that, among other things, address the underlying issues that force urban aboriginal women and children into vulnerable situations.

Friendship centres receive $575,000 a year in capacity funds through the Ministry of Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation. That amount has not gone up in 20 years, despite the significant increases in demand for services caused by the fast-growing off-reserve aboriginal population.

Chronic underfunding of B.C.'s aboriginal friendship centres has pushed these organizations to the breaking point and has undermined their ability to provide adequate supports for off-reserve aboriginal children, women and families.

The cycle of urban aboriginal poverty, vulnerability and victimization will persist and worsen unless the B.C. government takes bold action.

Off-reserve aboriginal children are five times more likely to be in foster care than non-aboriginal children and twice as likely to live in poverty and have poorer health. The cost of not investing in the capacity of the off-reserve aboriginal community is high -- government spending in health, social services and justice will continue to increase.

Friendship centres are an extremely cost-effective way of helping off-reserve aboriginal people build healthier futures. Their programs focus on prevention and early intervention and support and save taxpayers millions of dollars over the long term.

Similar to the 2006 New Relationship Trust for on-reserve First Nations people, the B.C. government has an opportunity to make a strategic investment in B.C.'s off-reserve aboriginal community through the establishment of a long-term capacity fund.

It is time to put a stop to the issues forcing urban aboriginal women and girls into vulnerable situations. It is time to focus on closing the socio-economic gaps between B.C.'s urban aboriginal peoples and the rest of the population.

An investment in the capacity of friendship centres will provide the structural support required to deliver services designed to end this inequality.

Aboriginal leaders will be meeting with cabinet ministers and MLAs next week to talk about this investment, and ask for a co-ordinated and targeted strategy to help off-reserve aboriginal people.

Paul Lacerte is the executive director of the B.C. Association of Aboriginal Friendship Centres, representing and supporting the province's 23 friendship centres that have been in operation for 40 years.

Friday, October 22

After the Pickton trial: what lives on |

After the Pickton trial: what lives on |
| DECEMBER 20, 2007

"We inherit not 'what really happened' to the dead but what lives on from that happening, what is conjured from it, how past generations and events occupy the force fields of the present, how they claim us, and how they haunt, plague, and inspirit our imaginations and visions for the future." -Wendy Brown, Politics Out of History

After several years spent researching the events surrounding the disappearances and deaths of so many women from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, there is only one thing I know for sure: that knowing "what really happened" to those women does little to help us struggle with the stunning complexity of "what lives on from that happening."

This is the thought that kept running through my head last January, as I sat in shocked silence in the overflow courtroom in New Westminster, B.C. on the first day of Robert William Pickton's trial for the murders of Sereena Abotsway, Mona Wilson, Andrea Joesbury, Marnie Frey, Brenda Wolfe, and Georgina Papin.

I thought I was prepared that day for what I was about to hear, as I was no stranger to the circumstances surrounding the trial. But as I listened to Crown council describe, in the cold, matter-of-fact language of legal-eze, "what really happened" to those six women, I knew that I was not prepared, not at all. And I wondered how knowing this information could make any difference to the injustices the women experienced, injustices which continue to shape the present.

Now that the trial is over and this lone individual has been convicted and sent to prison for the rest of his life, there is a sense that we can "move on," that with the verdict comes "closure." I am in awe of the family members who stuck through this trial, and am grateful that the verdict has given some of them a sense of relief. I also know that some media commentators made an effort to point out that little has changed for women in the Downtown Eastside in the years since Pickton's arrest. A spattering of stories along these lines appeared in the day or two after the verdict and sentencing. They've all but disappeared now, though, which is unfortunate, since what lives on from the deaths of so many women has everything to do with the ongoing injustices evident in this neighbourhood.

Family members of the disappeared women, Downtown Eastside activists, and some politicians and journalists have called for increased funding and support for women in the Downtown Eastside, increased protections for women doing sex work, and an investigation into how the police (mis)handled reports of women going missing from the neighbourhood. All of these are extremely important. But what I think most of us have yet to consider are the social dimensions of the suffering and loss that has taken place. In other words, how are we all implicated in the disappearances and deaths of so many women, even if we live hundreds of miles away and had no prior relationship with them? How are these events both written and sustained by the arrangements of our social world?

Let me give you an example. There has been a noticeable shift in mainstream media representations of the women who were disappeared. Early descriptions emphasized how the women were "prostitutes" and "drug-addicts," while recent descriptions tend to focus more on the women's roles as mothers, sisters, and daughters. This shift has come about mainly through the determination of the women's family members, who refused to let the world know their loved ones only through such narrow descriptions of how they lived their lives. But why did we need to know that the women were also mothers, sisters, and daughters in order to care about their fate? Does this imply that, generally speaking, many of us don't consider people labelled "prostitutes" and "drug-addicts" to be worthy of our concern? What might this shift then tell us about the assumptions that underpin our social world and our everyday interactions with others?


The mainstream media has also paid little attention to the fact that the women who were disappeared from the Downtown Eastside were disproportionately Indigenous. This fact makes me wonder how European colonization and settlement of the land now known as Canada is related to this present-day violence.

Of course, it's often said that the past is, well, past âe" that what happened in the past is over, finished, done, relevant to the present only in the form of a history lesson. According to that logic, colonization is a completed project. It is something we might lament, or decry, but it's seldom thought to be ongoing in the present. And yet Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is often talked about today using the language and metaphors of the Frontier; it is repeatedly described as a kind of "Wild West" zone.

These descriptions invite us to imagine the Downtown Eastside as a bordered space that is ripe for conquest and resettlement. This happens not only through media representations, but also through plans to "clean up" and "bring order" to the neighbourhood, and through efforts to gentrify it (which are all happening right now at an alarming pace in advance of the 2010 Olympics). So, I wonder: what is the relationship between these descriptions that invite a new "conquest" of the land and the terrible violence that has been inflicted disproportionately on Indigenous women from this neighbourhood?

A lot of emphasis has been put on getting us to think about "what really happened" to the women who were murdered. Learning the Crown's version of what really happened to the women at the opening of the trial, and learning it again and again in countless media re-presentations of those facts, has done nothing to help me confront the staggering realities of these events. In fact, those sensational details might distract us from the more difficult but perhaps more important task of thinking about what lives on from that happening.

Despite the conclusion of Pickton's first trial, I'm far from certain that we now know (or can ever know) all of "what really happened" to allow so many women to disappear for such a long stretch of time.

This doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to find out. But perhaps now that the trial is over we might shift our attention to what lives on, in the interests of a present (and future) that might be otherwise.

On The Farm gives voice to Pickton's victims |

On The Farm gives voice to Pickton's victims |

On the Farm's thoroughly researched portrayal of Pickton's modus operandi and of the women's final days makes up for decades of silence

| OCTOBER 22, 2010

On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women

by Stevie Cameron
(Knopf Canada,

Stevie Cameron's On the Farm: Robert William Pickton and the Tragic Story of Vancouver's Missing Women, was published last August after the Supreme Court upheld Pickton's multiple-murder conviction and lifted a publication ban. Cameron sat down for an interview on Oct. 6 while in Vancouver to give a talk in the Downtown Eastside, the troubled neighbourhood from which many of the missing women were abducted.

Cameron is a Toronto-based investigative journalist whose previous books tackled political corruption under Mulroney, as well as his involvement in the Airbus scandal. She has written about politics for the Ottawa Citizen and the Globe and Mail, and hosted The Fifth Estate on CBC. In 1997, she founded Elm Street magazine and assigned the story of Vancouver's missing women to reporter Daniel Wood.

Until 1997, women had been disappearing at a rate of one to five a year. Between 1997 and 1998, that rate spiked to one or two a month. In the town of Coquitlam 30 km east of Vancouver, meanwhile, people were talking about Robert William Pickton ("Willie"). Friends were finding purses and women's i.d. cards in his trailer and telling the police that Pickton may be connected to the disappearances. In late 1997, Sandra Gail Ringwald, whose real name is under a publication ban, escaped Pickton with severe stab wounds. She was interrogated by the RCMP. But the police didn't identify Pickton as a serial killer until 2002.

Pickton confessed to 49 murders. The police charged him with 26. On Dec. 9, 2007, he was sentenced to life in prison for murdering six women. Wally Oppal, B.C.'s former Attorney General, was recently appointed to head the Missing Women inquiry into the botched police investigation.

On the Farm's thoroughly researched portrayal of Pickton's modus operandi and of the women's final days makes up for decades of silence. But the gruesome descriptions sometimes verge on sensationalism. This paradox emerges in Helen Polychronakos's interview with Cameron who, while fighting to speak truth to power, can't resist the lure of a good story.

You went from writing about rich and powerful people like Mulroney to writing about some of the country's most disenfranchised, the women of Vancouver's Downtown Eastside. What was it like, shifting gears like that?

It was actually a simple move for me because I was sick of politicians. For 17 years in Toronto I had run a shelter with a food program for homeless people at my church. I have a background in dealing with very troubled, addicted, poor people. So when my agent said, would you be interested in [the Pickton book]? I said, you bet.


What was your biggest challenge in researching the Pickton case?

Having to do it in Vancouver. [Laughs] That was also the attraction. The biggest challenge was not that I was here but that it took so long. I learned a lot about Pickton because I went to the preliminary hearing in Port Coquitlam and that lasted seven months. And then the voir dire started. It was a year of arguing about the evidence. The defence won a huge number of their demands.

What kinds of evidence did the voir-dire exclude?

The testimony of Sandra Gail Ringwald, because the defence convinced the judge that she was not a reliable witness. This was a woman who was stabbed 15 times. She would have testified, but at the voir dire, the defence won everything they wanted. They got it down to six cases. Much easier to win on six than on 26. They threw out "Jane Doe," which I thought was a tragedy. She was the only one they didn't have a name for but the evidence was incredibly strong.

Your biggest critique in On the Farm is against the Vancouver Police Department. What responsibility do they bear in allowing this tragedy to continue as long as it did?

They've admitted that they have a huge responsibility. They ignored the women and didn't put their efforts into it. They had a man who was eventually convicted of having child pornography on his computer, and he was in charge of the missing persons unit. Part of the reason that they didn't want to do it is that they didn't want to go along with [former VPD officer and geographic profiling expert] Kim Rossmo's theory that there was a serial killer out there. [Rossmo] said to me, listen, they didn't know how to do it. They didn't have the know-how to handle a massive serial killer investigation like the one they were about to face. It was much easier to say, the women are on holiday.

Do you think the VPD is the only police force that neglected the women? What about the RCMP, who have jurisdiction in Coquitlam?

Most of the women were based in the DTES. The RCMP were the police in Coquitlam, and they did try to get a search warrant because he was a suspect between 1997 and 1999. They followed him around for a while. They were getting tips between 97 and 99 that he was the one. The regional crown counsel wouldn't give permission for them to do a search of the farm, because he said they just didn't have enough evidence.

When they finally did get a chance to have a search warrant for the farm, they didn't take any chances. This is the "Rookie Cop" chapter, which is quite a lot of fun. A guy called Nathan Wells testified, and he's a rookie. He's dealing with small-time drug dealers in Coquitlam.

[Pickton's acquaintance] Scott Chubb, who needs money to buy diapers for his kid, says he can hand Wells some drug dealers. Wells says they know who they are. So Chubb says well what about illegal weapons? What's that worth? [Wells] says, what kind of illegal weapons? He says, illegal weapons on the Pickton farm. Willie's got some guns. Willie was flagged as a suspect in [the missing women] case.

So the moment that Nathan goes back to work, puts it in the computer, the RCMP says Whoa! [In Pickton's trailer] they find women's i.d's, bloody clothing, stuff. Lots of stuff. When Willie drives up, they land on him on the front porch, take him down, you're under arrest, and take him away.

The RCMP had been getting tips from Willie's friends. Bill Hiscox for example. That's why he was already flagged as a suspect. How long had they been getting these tips for?

Well Hiscox was fairly early on. He got it from Lisa Yelds. Lisa had been Willie's best friend for years. She was deeply suspicious of him. And she told Bill, she said, Billy, you have to call the cops or something, I'm sure Willie's killing these women. And he did but nothing happened! Not even in 1997.

After you worked on the Mulroney/Schreiber book, you were accused of being an RCMP informant. The RCMP said that you were, and then they withdrew that claim. Eventually you were exonerated. But did it at all affect your investigation with the RCMP in Coquitlam?

The only thing I ever had to do with the RCMP in Coquitlam was that they were at the trial. My cousin, Jamie Graham, was the chief of police in Vancouver, so I couldn't have anything to do with the VPD.

In the Pickton case, you didn't need information from the RCMP?

No, but given what I'd gone through there was no way I was going to ask them anyway.

After Sandra Gail Ringwald was attacked in 1997, the RCMP interrogated her and searched Pickton's trailer. Didn't they find anything suspicious?

They found a lot of blood. I don't know what kind of search they did. He was charged with attempted murder in 1997. He killed 13 women that year. [Ringwald] would have been the fourteenth. They probably had no idea. She was afraid to testify against him, so she didn't come to court, and that's why the charge was dropped.

And that case didn't lead anywhere? It didn't give them any clues that this was a serial killer?

No. And that's probably why they are starting the inquiry [into botched police work] in 1997. But I believe that they should start this inquiry much further back.

Ideally, if you could direct this commission into the police investigation, how would you do it?

You bring back all the people that tried so hard to do something about it. There was Kim Rossmo, the best expert in Canada on serial killers, and the [VPD] fired him. I would have looked at all the memos and the failed efforts, all the paper work on this. You'll find there's almost no paperwork on this. Try to talk to all the police officers responsible at the time, and you'll find they've all almost all disappeared. They retired, even before Jamie [Graham] took over to clean it up. The main inside info I got about the Pickton case comes from the preliminary trial and the voir dire. I had the transcripts.

Let's talk about the women now, because you've said that the focus of this book is to give the women voices.

No, no. It's not that. What I've done is that this is the only place where all the women are named and what happened to them is described. And I knew that if I didn't do that nobody would. They were ignored. Nobody gave a damn about them except their families and some police officers and some journalists. So, once the judge severed the counts, got them down to six, suddenly those women were just as invisible as they had always been.

We'd had hope, that their stories would be told, and suddenly they were just shoved aside yet again. And I thought, somebody has to show the mounting horror of one death after another after another. Tell the stories of the last days of their lives. I was able to do that in many cases because witnesses came and testified about when they last saw this person and what she was like.

It was very difficult to read all that. How were you able to go back to it day after day? I had to put the book down several times.

People have to know that they were people's daughter and sisters.

What do the women's families think about the book?

It's so new. I've met one family, Dianne Rock's, who were in Colborne, Ontario when I was speaking there. I think a lot of families have been terrific. It think some of them are shocked. I mean last night I had dinner with Rita Ens who was the victim services worker whom I adore. She was shocked by what I wrote about her background. She said she wasn't expecting to see that in the book. That she was sold for a bottle of beer, that she was sexually abused by her father.

Do you ever worry that these stories might be exploitative?

I worked hard to make sure that didn't happen.


Well, I just wrote it straight. I did this book with a lot of love. And I think people know that.

None of the families were upset that you were revealing so much information?

It's already public on the website. Wayne Leng [friend of Sarah de Vries, who disappeared in 1998] is responsible for much of that. Anybody can read that stuff.

What do you think of the DTES today? What is the greatest barrier to safety for women working there?

Poverty. Poverty is terrible. And lack of drug treatment. They get sent to these recovery houses in Surrey or wherever after they've been through detox-if they can get into detox. Millions of dollars have been poured into the DTES but the lack of rehabilitation centres, the lack of treatment, the lack of good detox, the lack of good housing... They still live in these hotels where if you want to go visit them you have to pay the guy at the front ten bucks. Nothing's changed.

What's their greatest hope?

I haven't got an answer for that. It is a community. In Toronto, we don't have anything like the DTES. We have a DTES all right but it's in tiny little pockets all over the city. I haven't seen much change in Vancouver. I see the change in the developers, because there is such great housing potential there. And maybe that's its great hope, that they demolish it because it's too valuable for poor people. And if they get rid of it...I don't know what's worst, getting rid of it or keeping it because it's a community. I'm very torn.